The Journey Ahead
The Journey Ahead
From the desk of Rabbi David Lyon
The beginning of the book of Exodus is like an introduction to our favorite biblical characters. We’re introduced to Moses, Aaron, Miriam, among others, who will be part of the narrative that will engage us for many chapters and many centuries of commentary and insight. A highlight is found in Exodus 3, where Moses happens upon a bush that burns unconsumed. The sight of it moved Moses to say, “I must turn aside to look at this marvelous sight; why doesn’t the bush burn up?” Then God appeared to Moses in the burning bush, saying, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.”
So begins the relationship that takes on new and enduring meaning for Moses and the Israelites, from bondage in Egypt, to revelation at Sinai, and beyond. Every detail captures the attention of commentators for insights into the relationship between them and God. But, it’s also a glimpse into the relationship that moves beyond Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to include all of us who say at Passover, “My father was a fugitive Aramean,” and who identify with events at Sinai, recorded in Deuteronomy 29, where we learn, “I, [God], make this covenant…with those who are standing here this day… and with those who are not standing here this day.” That is, with you and me, too.
A first insight into the relationship begins with the rabbis who ask, “Why did God choose a thornbush from which to speak to Moses?” They answer, “To teach you that no place is devoid of God’s presence, not even a thornbush” (Midrash Rabbah on Exodus 11:5). Though the text is fuller than this excerpt, the point remains that if God could appear in a lowly thornbush, then God could appear anywhere.
Magnificent cathedrals and synagogues, alike, would lead us to believe that God is only among the powerful and only present in beautiful settings. But human history and experience make it obvious that God is also among the meek and impoverished, and present in simple and austere places. What’s more, God isn’t only with and among those who are at their best in health and happiness. God is also with and among those who are at their worst and in sickness and despair. Understanding God this way prevents us from believing that humanity is blessed only when it’s on top. Jewish thought allows for God’s presence to live with us in all the times and places of our lives. While we call ourselves blessed in happy and healthy times, we are also blessed to find God’s help and support in times that feel otherwise.
As we read through Exodus, Moses will come to find God’s presence at the best and worst of times in the wilderness. How prescient that God would appear to Moses in a thornbush. It left room for God to be present in many more places along the way, including atop Sinai. Now, it’s time for us to be aware of God’s presence within and among us, not just in times of joy, but also, and especially, in times that challenge us. What is faith if not the hope that we are truly not alone, and that whatever befalls us is not without meaning?
As the secular new year continues to unfold, let’s bring familiar characters and lessons from Exodus with us on our journey. Let’s find God’s presence there, too. Our human experience is worthy of God’s blessings and God’s help. Now let us live to honor such gifts.
(adapted from “God of Me: Imagining God throughout Your Lifetime” by Rabbi David Lyon, JLP 2011, pp. 7-20.)